Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer
Dir. David Fincher
I remember reading reports that The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was going to be remade. In fact ‘remade’ wasn’t the right word because the first film hadn’t been out for five minutes before Fincher’s version went into production. Simultaneous was probably a more accurate term. Typical. You wait years for a mesmerising bit of Scandinavian noir and two come along at once. (If only Bollywood had made it three the old cliche would have sounded even better!)
As I read the reports and the speculation over who would play Lisbeth Salander I told myself that whoever it was wouldn’t come close to Noomi Rapace’s version. When Rooney Mara was the surprise selection I didn’t think she had a chance, such was the iron grip Rapace had placed on the role to make it her own. However, Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo taught me a lesson in hubris. Not only did Mara steal Rapace’s role, she turned round and rammed it down her throat.
It’s fair to say that both films are stylish, recreate a lot of the original novel’s dirty linen and show us a side of Sweden that Abba never sang about. Even the Ikea furniture looks squalid. But there was something about Fincher’s version that gave it the edge and that something was Rooney Mara’s monstrous-vulnerable portrayal of Salander.
At first it didn’t occur to me what Mara had done. She rampaged through the film with the same cruel indifference as Rapace, but it was the scene at the end of the film that made me sit up and reflect on what I’d just watched. What I’d just witnessed. A recap: Salander visits her old guardian, Holger Palmgren recovering from his stroke and she tells him she has a friend; she writes out a Christmas card and buys an expensive jacket for Blomkvist and speeds off to present him with the Christmas package; we then see Blomkvist casually setting off with his regular girlfriend, Erika Berger, co-editor of Millennium magazine and the camera turns to capture the expression on Salander’s face.
The mixture of devastation and disbelief is shocking and heartbreaking and that was the element that was always missing from Rapace’s portrayal of Salander. I never felt there was a real human being underneath the surface of Rapace, but Mara’s Salander was human and capable of being hurt. She was three dimensional. Mara had held back on the emotion up to that point, which gave us no warning of what would happen or what it would look like when it did appear.
I’m still a fan of the first TGWTDT, still a fan of Noomi Rapace’s performance. But I’ll take my hat off and say that Rooney Mara pulled off the impossible. I recently came across an article from TotalFilm magazine that seemed to suggest there was a script by Steve Zallian for the next two books in the series, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest. Mara is apparently up for them both if they materialise, but the brilliant arseholes at Sony want to cut the budget for the second film which has probably scared off David Fincher and made it near impossible to attract Daniel Craig. Either way, it would be a shameful loss if Mara never gets the chance to complete the cycle. But for now I’ll go on watching The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and remember the lesson learnt from it. Never write someone off before you’ve seen the evidence.